Teenagers from ethnic minorities are less likely to get an offer from a top university because they are more likely to apply for the courses and institutions that are the toughest to get in to.
These young people are more likely to aim higher in their applications than their white peers, who tend to "play it safe", new research published by Ucas suggests.
The admissions service looked at offers made by English universities to young English applicants from different ethnic backgrounds.
It concluded that there was no "systemic bias" against ethnic minority applicants.
Although white students were more likely to get an offer from a selective university in general, this is because those with the same predicted A-level grades from Asian, black, mixed or other backgrounds were more likely to apply to the institutions and degree courses that had lower offer rates - effectively the hardest to get in to.
Actual offer rates to students from ethnic minority backgrounds are close to what would be expected, based on their predicted grades and the courses they want to study, the analysis note says.
Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: "This analysis is encouraging in that it does not reflect any systemic bias against ethnic minorities in HE admissions.
"What is clear is that the white group of applicants are more likely to 'play it safe' with their choices, selecting courses where the offer rate is higher. In contrast, the choices of some other ethnic groups - with the same set of predicted grades - tend to be more ambitious, and to courses with lower offer rates.
"With five choices available, it's a low-risk strategy if students do aim high and make at least one choice with entry requirements above their predictions without jeopardising their chances of receiving an offer overall."
Professor Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, said: "This important analysis from UCAS is a very welcome addition to the evidence around fair access to higher education. We know that some ethnic groups are under-represented in higher education, and there continue to be gaps in attainment between groups of students of different ethnicities.
"UCAS data is vital to researchers working to increase understanding of what creates advantage or disadvantage in access to higher education, which will help universities to improve the impact of their efforts to widen participation and improve support for students."
Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: "I have called for more data to be released to help us understand the offer rates for different groups of university applicants. This latest publication shows welcome progress and supports our commitment to increase the number of black and minority ethnic students by 20% in the next five years. But there is more to do, including for those in the White British category.
"Providing more data like this will help the whole higher education sector to really focus its effort to widen participation and raise young people's aspirations."